Arthur swept his spear end up, catching the descending claw and pushing it off-line. He took a short step to the right to avoid a fast-descending attack. Then, reversing the spear, he swept the point up to tear another cut along the orang minyak’s lower torso, parting oily flesh with ease. Once more, Arthur gave thanks to the team for gifting him this black spear on the first floor—so beautifully carved with a wavy design and still sharp like a razor without losing its toughness.
Then he was moving again. Weave under the return strike, step in to the left, and lunge forward. Plunge the weapon into the creature’s lower torso, jamming it into where the hip and leg joint met, tear sideways. The attack was meant to cripple rather than kill, and even as the orang minyak roared, Arthur danced back.
Too slow to get away entirely unscathed, but his spear held sideways took the blow for him. He skidded backwards a couple of feet and then had to reset footing as a root threatened to trip him over. For a few precious moments, he was unbalanced and vulnerable, the creature pushing past the pain to come for him.
Only for tendrils of shadow to reach out from the ground and grip its torso and one leg, forcing the monster to put more weight on the injured hip. Blood spurted and a noise like velcro tearing echoed through the forest as its leg gave way.
Jan, sweeping in close, struck in quick succession. Her hands blurred, one parang to the arm that was in the way, another to the vulnerable side of the head, splitting it apart like an overboiled egg. The creature started slumping, but the woman was unwilling to let up, her parang yanked out and returning. Meaty thunks rang and blood flew through the air.
Arthur turned aside, scanning the surroundings. The other two orang minyak were down too, or close to it. The team had handled this attack with aplomb, and Rick had yet to unleash his weapons. If anything, he had been forced to help with the fight, though he now cradled his side.
“What happened?” Arthur said, striding over to the man.
“Caught a blow to the ribs,” Rick said heavily. “Hurts like the bitches. I think I broke something.”
“Let me see,” Arthur said. He pulled the man’s hands away and then lifted the shirt, prodding at the side. To his surprise, it was not a wide bruise but small and tight, twice the size of a large coin perhaps. Not at all what he would expect from being struck by the orang minyak.
“What happened?” he asked, puzzled.
“He stepped into my pommel when I was pulling back,” Casey said.
“Really?” Arthur said.
“Yes!” Casey hissed.
“I actually did,” Rick admitted. “I thought she was going forward so I went right . . . didn’t realise she was just setting up.”
“See! I told you.”
Arthur ignored Casey, prodding Rick again and making the man hiss. “Yeah, it’s either badly bruised or broken. Good news, though.”
“What good news?” Rick said.
“It’ll probably heal pretty fast. And we don’t wrap broken bones, so you just got to make sure you don’t walk into other people anymore,” Arthur said, stepping back and clapping Rick on the shoulder. “Now, if everyone’s ready?”
He got nods from those around, including Lam, who had just finished pulling his hand out of the creature’s stomach, hand bloody as he clutched its core.
“Let’s go. We got more to find.”
Walking off, Arthur could not help but hear Rick complaining behind him. He had to smile a little, even if he had been utterly serious. The boy had no sense of how to fight in a group either, while Casey was trying her best.
Still, as they kept fighting through the day, making their way towards their first orang minyak village, Arthur could not help but note that they were actually doing pretty well. Even if the creatures were still managing to escape notice by Uswah for the most part, the team at least knew what to look out for, prodding suspicious bushes and lingering shadows in trees before moving closer. More than once, these simple precautions revealed the hiding creatures, allowing them to deal with the orang minyak pre-emptively.
And more importantly, they’d begun to suss out the rhythm of the fights. Surprisingly, or perhaps not, there were not many variations to the attacks employed by these monsters. Unlike humans and their endless variations and weird techniques—who could imagine a Superman punch to be effective till it was tried on them?—the monsters kept to a small but effective routine of attacks.
All of which meant that the fighters were fast gaining an understanding of how to do battle with orang minyak. And while they were still needing two fighters per oily man, Yao Jing, Mel, and even Arthur could briefly hold their own one-on-one if necessary. They might not win a fight alone—the disparity in strength being a little too one-sided still—but they could delay long enough for the rest of the team to arrive.
With those optimistic thoughts, Arthur was happy for the team to press ahead.
Unfortunately, as though he’d raised a flag signaling their own doom, his hope for the future was soon shattered in their next battle, where not just three or four but five orang minyak turned up. Almost immediately, the team was put on the backfoot, Arthur and Mel forced to take on one monster each, while Yao Jing and Jan paired against the third. But left that two unaccounted for.
Casey and her bodyguard then took on one of those, while Uswah was on her way back to help. The last monster, having battered Rick backwardsa little, now chased after the gunslinger, forcing him to pull a pistol out. He was now his back, one hand bracing the other.
The crack of multiple gunshots rang out, one after the other. The orang minyak staggered a little, surprise making it twist and clutch at its body as each bullet tore into it. Four, then five shots rang out, before the monster stumbled to a stop and crashed down by Rick’s feet a moment later.
After that, it barely took any time to wipe out the rest of the orang minyak as Rick fired whenever he had a clear shot. He took his time, careful to watch his back. And so the monsters fell. One after the other.
Leaving Rick reloading with a new magazine and the rest of the team rubbing at their ears.
“Shit. Well, that’s torn it,” Arthur said, yawning loud as he tried to get his hearing back. Thankfully, his healing technique should be fine fixing it. Or so he hoped. “We’re close to the village, right?” A nod from Uswah, who’d scouted ahead. “Then let’s get moving. Fast as we can.”
The team worked quickly, hands coming out bloody from cavities as they extracted cores. They regrouped and Uswah led the way once more. Hoping against hope that the monsters would not have heard them coming, and knowing that was utterly unlikely.